Can the  Paris Climate Agreement be rescued?

Rajendra Shende
Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Two months ago, all 12 boys and the coach of a Thai football team were rescued after being trapped in a cave in north Thailand for 18 days. Many termed their rescue against heavy odds a miracle. Sadly, the six-day United Nations Special Climate Conference that concluded on September 9 was not able to rescue the trapped Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) in south Thailand. Many of the delegates wondered if it was about pronouncing the promises only to dodge them. 

Two months ago, all 12 boys and the coach of a Thai football team were rescued after being trapped in a cave in north Thailand for 18 days. Many termed their rescue against heavy odds a miracle. Sadly, the six-day United Nations Special Climate Conference that concluded on September 9 was not able to rescue the trapped Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) in south Thailand. Many of the delegates wondered if it was about pronouncing the promises only to dodge them. 

The PCA has been hanging from a cliff right from the day US President  Donald Trump, a year back, announced his official plan to withdraw from it. Though hundreds of American mayors and thousands of businesses -- and even its allies like France -- have been seeking to defy the consequences of Trump’s withdrawal, the agreement is getting dangerously close to its fatal consequence.

The good news is that the PCA has entered into force on November 4, 2016, in less than a year from its consensus adoption on December 12, 2015. However, it is yet to be operationalised because its modalities, procedures and guidelines are yet to be agreed upon by its 180 Parties (countries that ratified the Paris Agreement). Indeed, the PCA in its present form is just an agreement of intent.

These ‘rules’, as per the time-table agreed in Paris, have to be ready no later than 2018. The Bangkok Climate Conference was a late addition to the schedule after dismal progress was made at the annual meeting of the subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) in Bonn in May 2018. The Bangkok Climate Conference was the last major negotiating meeting before the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP-24) in Poland in December, when finally the PCA will be in mission mode.

The exercise in Bangkok turned out to be progress in planning but a stalemate in its objective of operationalising. The PCA remains trapped in a complex maze of the caves of finance for mitigation and adaptation for the developing countries, deployment of market mechanisms, periodicity of stocktaking and transparency, flexibility for developing countries in reporting. Formulating the rules on the cyclic and iterative nature by enhancing the nationally determined contributions (NDCs), earlier considered an innovation in international agreements, is now proving to be formidable.

It all boils down to the fact that world is now setting the new norms of not keeping the promises made on global cooperation. Not walking the talk and smartly gyrating the agreed goals is now the global attire of the diplomacy. And each of these new patterns are being justified, sometimes diplomatically and, many times with international arrogance. Take, for example, financing for mitigation and adaptation for the developing countries. 

The ‘polluter to pay’ norm has been the anchor in the multilateral environment agreements right from the 1992 Rio Agreement, but is now being openly flouted. The promise of providing ‘additional’ finance through the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was first proposed by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then President Obama in Copenhagen in 2009, is supposed to become fully operational in 2020, i.e. developed countries would provide -- starting with $10 billion per year in 2012 to reach $100 billion per year from 2020 onwards -- to help developing countries pay for climate adaptation and mitigation.

What has happened to that promise? As of today, GCF has pledges of $10.4 billion whereas the actually committed is only $3.5 billion. The GCF as institution itself is in chaotic state. The GCF head, an Australian, abruptly resigned in July 2018 after just two years in the job because of ‘personal reasons’. The deputy head from Nicaragua did not even attend the July meeting of GCF, where no projects were approved. 

In Bangkok, the developed countries smartly proposed to count all the finances provided by the private sector, philanthropy, FDI and regular international development aid of 0.7 per cent of the GDP as part of the promised $100 billion. They also proposed dilution of the financial reporting rules, thereby flouting the agreement on ‘additional climate financing’. Not walking the full talk by the star performers on climate change has also resulted in the angry reaction from civil society, and supported by countries, on such climate-hypocrisy.

An example is the Global Climate Action Summit convened from September 12 to 14, 2018, in San Francisco, under the leadership of California Governor Jerry Brown. The summit’s theme is ‘Take Ambition to the Next Level’. It will be a star-studded international event to showcase climate action at all levels and to inspire enhanced commitments and god-speed action from countries to realise the goals of the PCA. 

Indeed, California has done more in policy setting and its implementation in the field of renewable energy and energy efficiency than any other country in the world. Its firebrand governor can be termed as climate’s game-changer. In Bangkok, Brown was booed by civil society representatives for his soft approach towards oil producers in California by allowing them to drill for oil. “How can we expect a leader to take climate ambitions to the next level when he himself, from the back-door, takes it to a lower level,” said a demonstrator. 

When state leaders arrive in Poland in December, they would have to muddle through the mess of the draft ‘rule book’ mired in diminishing trust. By that time, the GHGs concentration, already higher by 42 percent as compared to 1992 levels, would have risen to the ‘next level’. A rescue operation for the PCA would be near impossible.

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